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Drug Addiction Treatment: Treatment for Drug Addiction

Updated on March 27, 2013

According to Martin (2008), addictions are "disorders of desire." Addiction is a disease and not a moral condition. It involves the regular usage of mood altering substance or behaviour in a way that leads to dependency and adversely affects the individual.

The pathological use of substance falls into two categories: substance abuse and substance dependence.

Substance dependence - also called addiction - is characterized by DSM IV-TR as the presence of many problems related to taking the substance. It refers to a pattern of substance use and consequent serious psychological and physical impairments, often including tolerance and withdrawal. Addiction or substance dependence involves using more of the substance than intended, trying unsuccessfully to stop, having physical or psychological problems made worse by the drug and experiencing problems at work, with friends or family because of it. Some investigators argue that withdrawal is mandatory for the diagnosis of substance dependence or addiction.

Substance abuse is a less serious diagnosis and means drug use that leads to failure to meet obligations and to interpersonal and legal problems. Use of the drug may also expose the person to physical dangers such as drink driving. Social relationships are strained and there are frequent legal problems as a consequence of substance abuse.


DSM-IV-TR criteria for substance dependence or addiction:

  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal
  • Substance taken for a longer time or in greater amounts than intended
  • Desire or effort to reduce or control use
  • Much time spent trying to obtain the substance
  • Social, recreational, or occupational activities given up or reduced
  • Continued use despite the problems caused by substance

Characteristics Of Drug Addiction:

Drugs "lead us on, the one hand into the darkest of depths of human passion, ending in mental instability, physical misery and degradation and on the other hand, to hours of ecstasy and happiness or a tranquil meditative state of mind" (Lewis Lewin).

Addiction is a long lasting disease with the two core features:

- Strong craving or desire that dominates one's life

- Loss of voluntary control over behaviour

Addiction gives rise to self-destructive behaviour and an irresistible urge for short-term gratification which over rides long-term harm. Addiction leads to habituation, neurobiological changes and altered brain metabolism in the brain that further reinforces addiction.

Addiction also causes withdrawal and abstinence symptoms such as cravings, hypersensitivity to stress, feeling incomplete, empty, anxious and shaky as well as restlessness, impulsiveness, depression, pain and misery.


Treatment For Drug Addiction:

Treatments of all kinds have been used to help people refrain from the use of both legal drugs (e.g. alcohol and nicotine) and illegal drugs (e.g. heroin and cocaine). There is a different treatment for every type of drug abuse, hence the treatment for addiction varies from individual to individual.

However, treatment has be readily available in order for it to be effective and it must be constantly assessed and changed according to modifications in the patient's condition. It is imperative for recovery that the patient stays under treatment for an adequate period of time - three months at least.

Detoxification is usually the first step in treatment for addiction.

Controlling intake and consumption is another important step to regaining control that addicts lose in addiction. Changes in environment by limiting addiction opportunities is necessary for this. The idea of complete abstinence from the substance might seem impossible to patients at the beginning of treatment, but this is necessary for total recovery. However, giving up the substance is often followed by relapse, hence it is important that withdrawal is supported with therapy and psychological help.


Biological Treatment For Drug Addiction:

Biological treatments for addiction aim to release patients from dependency, usually by substituting with another drug. Medications can play a significant part in treating addiction by blocking or inhibiting reward circuits in the brain, while anti-drug vaccines stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies to the addictive drug.

Synthetic opiates (like Methadone) are prescribed in place of the addictive drug to prevent craving and withdrawal or to block the effects of drug addiction. Buprenorphine (Suboxone) and Levo-alpha-acetylmethadol (LAAM) is prescribed for patients with heroin addiction. Naltrexone is prescribed for alcohol addiction while Acamprosate (Campral) is used to help maintain abstinence in patients with alcohol dependency. Nicotine replacement via gum, patches or inhalers has met with some success in reducing cigarette smoking.

However, substitute medication also has the danger of being addictive so patients must be monitored in their prescription and intake. Moreover, none of these methods leads to any enduring change without the help of psychological treatments.

Role Of Nutrition In Drug Addiction Treatment:

One helpful way of dealing with addiction is feeding the brain with concentrated building blocks of natural feel-good chemical like the ones the addictive substance has replaced. These include Amino acids L -phenylalanine, L - tyrosine, Tryptophan (protein from which body makes serotonin), Vitamin B, Omega 3 fats, fish oils, carbohydrates and oral supplements.


Psychological Treatment For Drug Addiction:

There is some evidence that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for cocaine addiction, which works by strengthening the individual's voluntary control over their behaviour. Nutrient Therapy and Sensory Motor Therapy integration is also helpful for treating addiction. Family therapy, especially for adolescents is useful in supporting patients and their families.

Holistic techniques that raise awareness of effects of trauma, body emotions, sensations and thoughts are effective in the treatment of addiction. Psycho-education enables patients to make links between the cause and their addiction.

Motivational interviewing has also been helpful for the treatment of alcohol and other drug addiction.

Often Self-help residential homes or rehabilitation centres are used to help treat patients recover from drug addiction. These provide a comprehensive environment in which drugs are not available and continuing support is offered to ease patients in transition from a regular drug use to a drug-free existence.


Recovery From Drug Addiction:

It must be noted that recovery from addiction is a long-term process and requires patience, commitment and hard work. The role of family, friends and colleagues is crucial in motivating individuals with addiction to enter and stay in treatment.

Consulting your local GP or drug clinic is highly advised in order to get proper treatment and support for addiction.


Addiction may develop as a result of trauma and the need to self-medicate which interrupts reward systems in the brain. Through habituation, self medication can lead to dependency and addiction. Over time, these can come to control the individual.

Treatment interventions should go beyond harm minimisation and include awareness of aetiological factors such as trauma and early childhood stress. These in turn need to be worked through and integrated in order to avoid addictive behaviours.

A Helpful Video On Drug Addiction:


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